Living With Chronic Complainers
Getting old or being sick isn’t easy. Living with those who are feeling the aches and pains of age and illness isn’t easy either. They often seem angry all the time, never have a nice thing to say about anything or anyone and their negativity can easily bring down the entire house in an instant. You want to be compassionate, you want to be there for your family when they’re in need. But even the best of people can only take so much before they go crazy themselves.
From the perspective of the older or ill relative, they already feel as though they’ve become a burden to you. If it’s a parent you’re taking care of, remind them that they took care of you when you were young and now it’s your turn to take care of them. Tell them that the U.S. is the only country that doesn’t treat it’s elderly with the utmost respect and dignity. In most other countries, the elderly are revered and honored. In many countries of Asia, it’s an honor to be selected as the one who is responsible for caring for their elderly parents.
As much as it’s a burden on you to care for them, try to keep a couple of things in mind about what they’re going through. Often it’s not the age that makes the difference, it’s the mileage. The things we put ourselves through physically in our younger years do indeed catch up with us as we get older. First those things start out as aches and pains. But as time progresses, those aches can become truly debilitating pains.
Imagine for a moment a time when you hurt yourself and were in severe pain for a week or two. Thankfully you healed and the intense pain went away. When you get older or when you’re chronically ill, that pain NEVER goes away. It’s always there in the everyday things you do. Whither it’s raising your arm to get a coffee cup out of the cabinet, or trying to take your shirt off at night. It’s there when you’re trying to find one position that you can ease the pain when you’re laying in bed trying to get to sleep. After a couple of hours, you wake up hurting and hurt while you try to turn over and find a new position. It’s hard to get any sleep, or at the very least a few hours of restful sleep. So you wake up grumpy and tired and mad at the world.
Dealing with pain and illness from the sufferers perspective isn’t easy at all. It takes a lot of energy out of you trying to “suck it up” and “deal with it”. And today it seems that every solution to manage the pain or disease has equally bad side effects that fix one thing, but create another. As the person dealing with the issue, they can’t find relief of any kind, they’re tired and they simply want to make it all stop. But they can’t. Add to that, the sense of guilt in putting extra burdens on their relatives who are now taking care of them. They deal with the strain of their disease and the stress of family on top of the guilt and it’s no wonder that depression sets in and spirals things out of control even further.
Solutions To Help
There are many things you can do as the caregiver to maintain the least amount of impact on you, your family and your home. First and fore most don’t think you have to face this alone. There are many organizations that offer help in counseling, weekly visits that help in taking care of the sick or elderly, or simply come to spend time with them so you can get out to the store, go shopping, have lunch with your friends or simply take a break and relax for a few hours. Don’t be afraid to call someone! You really don’t have to do it alone!
Check into hospice services, or local community organizations that offer a weekly ‘get out of the house’ for those who are receiving care. There are many senior groups who provide day care for the elderly and some will even come to your house and pick them up. The relative gets out and spends time with others their own age, they find support and people to communicate with. And you get time to relax or get things done that you need time for. You can also find support groups for caregivers. A place where you can share your feelings and find suggestions and help for your mental sanity as well. “Get it out” and don’t keep it in where it can build and fester.
Don’t ignore the spiritual support either. The one you’re taking care of may not believe in the same things you do, but that doesn’t mean you can’t spend time talking to them about what they believe. You might even learn something, and you might learn something about them you never knew. Don’t judge their beliefs, even if they judge yours. Try to pray with them and ask the Divine for help in easing the ailment or disease. And if you can’t do that with them, there’s no reason you can’t do it in the morning when you wake up.
For your own mental sanity, you can conduct a weekly cleansing of energy in your home. This can present a problem with those who are old or ill that are affected by allergies or sensitive to aromas. Instead of using incense, try using a clear quartz crystal and fanning the energy from the crystal around the house.
Talk to them about spiritual healing. There are many ways to discuss spiritual topics without using the labels or words that you know may set them off on some “devil worship” rant. Talk to them about Divine healing, energy from “God” that passes through those who ask for help in healing those they love. Talk to them about the modern research that shows the healing power of touch. Then place your hand on their hand, or wrist or if you can, the area that causes them the most discomfort.
When you do, imagine the pure and crystal clear Divine white light of healing coming into the top of your head and moving through your body. As it does see this light change to a crystal clear emerald-green light that enters your hands, passes through your palms and transfers to the person you’re giving healing energy to. See this light easing the stress of the area you’re touching, the selling goes down, the disease is attacked and destroyed, the pain they feel subsides. You can keep this going for as long as you desire or they’ll let you. You can keep your hands in one place or move them up and down the body.
If this approach is something you’d like to learn more about, check out my section on Reiki on the Spring’s Haven website. You’ll find some basic information, along with some step by step suggestions and information on hand positions for healing. You’ll also find some suggestions for healing through proxy that can help provide healing while your patient is resting or sleeping and you don’t want to disturb them.
Talk to them about guided meditation that has been proven to help confront disease and ailments. Ask them if they’re willing to try it. Find some CDs or digital recordings online and discuss them with your guest. Show them what doctors and studies have discovered about these approaches and try to get them involved in their own healing process. Make efforts to include them in your spiritual approach and be open to theirs! You get what you give.
Tips To Making It Work
The spiritual suggestions aside, there are also some practical suggestions to think about and implement too. Everyone wants to know where they stand in situations that bring challenges. Laying out the ground rules let’s everyone know what to expect and what’s expected of them. This can go along way to easing tensions and expectations, on both sides of the fence.
Consider these steps in all your relationships, they can help couples get along as well as families with growing kids. These suggestions aren’t only for caregivers and those receiving care.
Here are 5 practical tips to put into place.
1. Set up Basic Ground Rules.
If you occupy a specific space, such as a bedroom or basement apartment, then everyone needs to understand that this is your space–especially if they’re renting the room. You should knock before entering, even if the door is open. Make sure they feel safe and have their own sense of privacy in their room. They’re not living in a jail. Everyone needs a sense of privacy and a space they can call their own. Be respectful of that space.
By the same token make it clear that they need to return that same respect to other members in the household. They shouldn’t walk into the spaces of others in the house without permission. Even if their intent is to clean up and help out, they need to ask permission first. This can be especially true if one of the members of your home is a teenager. Establish the need for private space for EVERYONE in the house, not just the person receiving care.
In addition, openly discuss who takes care of chores, cooking, and shopping. Everyone should equally share the tasks for running the household if they’re physically able. This not helps you out, but it can also give your guest a sense of accomplishment and giving something back.
Here in my house we have an agreement about cooking and cleaning the dishes. Whoever cooks, the other person cleans. Sounds like a great rule, but it leaves a few gray areas that can cause strife. Discuss when meals should take place. If you have kids, a routine schedule can be important to provide time for eating, cleaning, doing homework, taking a bath and getting to bed on time. Dinner should be at this time, and cleaning the kitchen should be done right after dinner. Or whatever works best in your home. Make sure everyone knows which dishes or items can go in the dishwasher and which ones can’t. For instance, I received a beautiful wooden knife set. I love it, but the knives can’t go in the dishwasher. You may have some plastic containers that can’t with stand the heat of a dishwasher, make sure everyone knows about those. Try to cover the gray areas.
2. Discuss Compensation.
No one wants to feel like a burden. Discuss rent expectations upfront, and discuss whether household chores and running errands can replace paying rent. Don’t make any assumptions! Ask your guest what their ideas are before you make decisions about what will be done. Everyone has to have a say in this situation. Don’t make it a my way or the highway proposition. Learn to compromise! If your relative wants you to do chores around the house, make a list of chores and how often you need to do them in a house cleaning schedule. Gray areas here can cause tension and stress, so make sure to have an open and honest discussion about expectations.
Be flexible! Those who are elderly or ill may not be up to doing their chores every week. The changes in weather can have a major effect on how someone feels when they’re already sick or achy. This is especially true as we get older. So if there’s a storm front coming through, expect your guest to start feeling bad at least a day ahead of the storm.
In addition, make sure to discuss childcare. If your elderly parents move in with you, they might want to look after your kids while you work. This can save you a lot of money on daycare. If your parents want to watch the kids, discuss how many hours they can babysit during the week.
Don’t assume someone wants to babysit or is there for you regardless of your schedule. Show respect and ask if they can help you out and watch the kids for a little while. Eliminate any gray areas.
3. Set Expectations.
Set expectations for everyone in the house. Living together means you’re affecting everyone in the house. If you sit down with your parent(s) and leave out the kids, you’re leaving out an important part of the house. They are affected too.
Directly communicate information about goals and plans as well as expectations for everyone. If part of your care giving involves having someone come into your home to help you care for them, they really need to know this upfront. Don’t surprise them one day with an in-home nurse they knew nothing about. Talk to them about the support groups or agencies that you would like to involve. Remember privacy is an issue when you’re living in a single home. And if that privacy involve intimate chores like helping to bath, get out of bed and get dressed, then the person receiving that care must have a say in who and how that takes place.
Don’t cover the small things up front. Save them for the next discussion a few days later. The small things can annoyances that turn into really big issues if they go on too long. But if you cover them up front, you may be creating a situation where your guest feels they are being put on egg shells. They don’t know what they can do vs what they can’t. So make sure you give them a chance to think about what they would like to see after a few days of living there. And by the little things I’m talking about preferences of how things are done in the house. Dishes go in the dishwasher not on the counter. This detergent is used for these cloths because this person has allergies. This person folds towels this way, while this one folds them that way. Come on..who cares as long as the towels get folded and put away. If you want them folded a specific way, then you take responsibility for folding the towels!
By setting goals and clearly communicating plans, you can avoid awkward situations and set realistic expectations. You can always revisit your plans and change them at a later date, but have an initial plan to help open the lines of communication.
4. Pick Your Battles.
Annoyances can arise when living with relatives. Someone may have messy habits or there may be things that drive people crazy such as you forget to take off your shoes when you walk through the door. Or leave an unwashed dish on the kitchen cabinet. If you work out these details in step 3 and set expectations, you can gently remind people of these things. But don’t fight about them. There are more important things to deal with. These are really common small annoyances, but if you let them go without calmly discussing them, you can allow them to fester and blow up into really big situations. Don’t leave the gray areas out!
Don’t fight over these common small annoyances. Pick the battles worth fighting for, such as someone blatantly invading your privacy, or challenging you on how to raise your kids. Learn patience and swallow the petty stuff; invest in the battles that really matter.
The added stress of financial concerns can make living with family a virtual powder keg, with everyone’s emotions running high. Diffuse tense situations by joking, if appropriate, and make sure family members have an opportunity to air their grievances when necessary. Anticipate emotional triggers and try to sidestep them to avoid an argument. The best way to do this is to calmly talk about these things up front and come to agreements on expectations.
5. Be Inclusive
Being a guest in someone else’s home, even if you’re paying rent can create a secluded or segregated feeling. Try to include them in your daily activities. Even if they’re a relative you want them to feel welcomed in your home. Helping to rid the stress and worry will help them feel better in the long run. They won’t be worrying themselves sick.
If that means you need to schedule time in your calendar to sit with them and talk, then do so. If it means you’d like to schedule a weekly family meeting to discuss issues or simply chat about the plans for the up coming week, then make that known. Share what you’re thinking and don’t expect others to be able to read your mind. Don’t expect someone to “read your vibes” and know how you’re feeling. By the same token, don’t assume you can “read someone else’s vibes” and know what they’re feeling.
Find out who their friends are or what family they want to keep in touch with and make sure you provide a way for them to do that. You can talk about the ground rules for the phone, making long distance calls, or get them their own simple cell phone, set it up for them and teach them how to use it. Don’t cut them off from the people they care about. They need support too. Help them schedule play time with their friends, your family or whatever they desire to do. They deserve an activity that gives them comfort and relaxation.
If you have kids and reading time is part of your nightly ritual, invite your guest to join in and listen. If you’re going out for a drive on the weekend to look at the spring flowers or fall leaves or winter decorations, invite them along. If you’re planning a vacation, don’t assume that you’re going to be leaving them at home. Sometimes even the elderly and sick need a change of scenery. Maybe it’s a night in the mountains, or a weekend at the beach. Ask them if they want to come. Give them the chance to say no. And if they do say no, don’t be offended. They may need a break from you too. Make what ever arrangements are necessary to provide care for them while you’re gone.
There are many organizations who provide information, suggestions, support and resources to help those facing these issues. Here are a few resources that can help and provide links to other organizations for support.
- Family Care-giving – American Psychological Association
- Elderly Caregiving: Choices, Challenges, and Resources for the Family – Univ. of CA/SF
- Family Caregiver Alliance
- NHS – UK
You don’t have to go it alone. Even if you only want a few hours to relax, there are people who can help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the support that’s available in your town. Taking care of an elderly relative or a sick family member can have it’s rewards. Don’t approach it as a burden and you’ll find the blessings to be found.
© 2012 Springwolf, D.D., Ph.D. Springwolf Reflections / Springs Haven, LLC. All Rights Reserved.